Sunday 7 December 2008

itsu, Wardour Street, central London

An emerging chain of restaurants and shops with a garish yellow and pink logo, itsu specialises in selling fresh and mostly healthy food. Decorated like a sleek corporate canteen, the Wardour street branch has conveyor belts loaded with small dishes snaking around the small tables and benches. You can pick portions of sushi, bowls of soup and deserts off the belt. How much you pay (between £2.50 and £4.50) depends on the colour of the dish rim. You can order bigger or hotter dishes or drinks by pressing the red button on your table to summon a waiter or waitress. But the service can be haphazard and a bit dour. For example, your waitress might neglect to mention that the sashimi you ordered is off the menu until after the rest of your meal has arrived.

Subtle and moreish
The food itself is generally fresh and flavoursome, if a bit salty. Among the better dishes is the salmon shiso handroll (£4.50), which is wrapped in seaweed, and the mouthwatering chicken teriyaki (£6.25) served with a sweet sauce. Accompanied by a tangy, green herb dressing, the chilli crab crystals (£4.50) have a subtle and moreish flavour, but are tricky to eat as the filling slips out easily with the first bite, while the miso soup (£2.50), garnished with coriander, tofu, wakame and spring onions, is a bit watery and lackluster. Few of the dishes will fill you up and you will need the stodgy, but tasty, steamed rice (£1.50) and, perhaps, the green beans (£2.50) in their tough, salty hides. There are also deserts (£3.50), such as chocolate mousse or creme brulee, but they are quite small. All this soon adds up and the drinks can be pricey - a pint-size bottle of Asahi lager is a fiver, while a small bottle of water is £2.50, but you can get free iced-tap water. With a recession on, the itsu formula may need refining - on a Sunday lunchtime, the Wardour Street restaurant can be more than half-empty. 6/10